The bill passed the Senate on March 4, which sent it to Herbert just two days after it was unveiled. Since then, Herberts office has received hundreds of calls about the bill.
[Herbert] is weighing all of the options. Theres sign the bill, theres not sign the bill and let it go into law, theres veto the bill, the governor's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, told the Deseret News. A veto-proof majority passed this bill, so that plays into the consideration.
In the time leading up to today's recall, opposition to the bill grew quickly. The Salt Lake Tribunes Peg McEntee calls the bill an affront to the principle of open government. The Salt Lake City Weekly referred to the bill as an example of 21-century tyranny and David Cuillier, an associate professor of Journalism at the University of Arizona said the bills impact would make Utahs record laws more backward than a Third World countrys.
The main criticisms of the bill are broken down on the Utah Political Summary blog, where author Curt Bentley discusses Utahs GRAMA law and the impacts HB477 would have. In the end, he concludes, the medias condemnation of the bill is not overblown.
HB477 creates a privileged class of electronic communications for our public representatives, Bentley writes. It may very well be uncomfortable for legislators to feel like they are not to be able to communicate as freely as they would like to, and you could see why HB477 would be attractive to them. But a substantial degree of potential public oversight is the price you pay for becoming politically involved.
Changes impacting the sharing of electronic records, such as text messages and voice mails, as well as changes regarding fees for records requests are drawing most of the criticism.
In a letter to the governor, Radio Television Digital News Association Chairman Mark Kraham wrote, To now suggest, in the name of privacy, that conversations relevant to the inner workings of government should be shielded from public scrutiny based on the form of the communication rather than the content stands in stark contrast to GRAMAs intent, and indeed to those principles of transparency that ground open records laws across our nation.
Charles N. Davis, a former national Freedom of Information Chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, criticized the changes to electronic records, saying, In an era in which more and more governmental business will be conducted through electronic means, this is a stunning reversal. It removed any semblance of public and press scrutiny from a whole range of government communications, forever, in a single section.
On the FOI FYI blog, which is part of the Society of Professional Journalists blogs network, a post states that lawmakers are using changes to the GRAMA law to punish the people they claim to represent.
In this session, legislators made a big stink about how America is a constitutional republic rather than a democracy," the post says. "What they are forgetting is that under our form of government, the people have hired them to do the work of government, and the people have a right to call them into account. To do that, they need access to public records.
In a statement regarding HB477, the Student Press Law Center didnt pull any punches in criticizing the bill, saying, To be clear, this bill is about protecting the ability to govern corruptly and about nothing else.
Journalists are not interested in publishing legislators correspondence with the mythical widows and orphans whose privacy the sponsors purport to be safeguarding, the statement says. But there is a legitimate public interest in the calendar entries reflecting which special-interest lobbyists are getting red-carpet access to elected officials, or the text messages that disclose officials government-subsidized infidelities.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, based in Washington, D.C., sent a letter to Herbert Monday asking him to veto the bill.
"This monumental devolution House Bill 477 represents for government transparency is without precedent," the letter states. "To categorically exempt entire platforms of communication (i.e., text messages and other forms of electronic communications) demonstrates a newfound callousness and antagonism toward transparency that will only invite greater government secrecy and back-room dealings."
Equality Utah, The League of Women Voters of Utah, UtahsRight and Sunshine Review have voiced their opposition to HB477 on Twitter. The ACLU sent Herbert a letter against the bill and issued an action alert on its website, asking for citizens to call or e-mail the governors office.
The Salt Lake City Weekly reports that two rallies are being planned to oppose HB477. The first, set for the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, is being organized via Facebook. The second rally is planned for Thursday, according to its Facebook page.
While new media spheres have been filled with the voices of those opposing the bill, both the House and Senate have also posted blogs regarding their support for the changes to the GRAMA law.
On the House blog, Vox Populi, a March 4 post states, The bill resets GRAMA with todays technology in mind and clarifies legislative intent where court decisions have swung the pendulum dangerously far in one direction.
A core concern with GRAMA is the distinction between a conversation and a record, Majority Leader Brad Dee writes on the blog. When GRAMA was created it wasnt fathomed that day-to-day conversations would be considered as records. But what you and we now consider a digital conversation is now considered public record: text messages, voice mails, instant message logs. If thats the case, why not just mic up every elected official and the tens of thousands of public employees across the state? Not only is it an impossible task, its also a gross invasion of privacy.
In a Senate post titled, Why Revise GRAMA? 17 reasons for changing the law are given, in addition to links to the vote, discussion in committee and what Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, the bill sponsor, said when he introduced the bill to the public.
This effort is first and foremost about restoring the open records law to its original intent while maintaining the public trust, functionality and acclaim for transparency that Utah has earned, the post states. HB477 is about protecting privacy, updating a 20-year-old bill to accommodate new technologies, preventing runaway costs and clarifying some definitions.
Rep. Holly Richardson, R-Pleasant Grove, also discussed the bill on her Holly on the Hill blog.15 comments on this story
Utahs meetings are open; official communications in traditionally recognized written format are still available via GRAMA requests," she writes. "The passage of HB477 doesnt end GRAMA and it surely doesnt end the openness and transparency of the Utah legislature.
Even with the proposed changes, the House blog says, Utah will continue to be one of the most transparent states due to the transparency site, financial disclosures for elected officials, conflict of interest statements, public meeting agendas and live meeting streaming.